Category: Writing Craft

A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo

Category: Writing Life, Outlining

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I’ve just signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time EVER. As a hardcore plotter, I’ve never felt ready to participate. I can’t even fathom writing 50,000 words of prose without a solid outline. Plus, I’m not a fast writer. My inner editor and I are a team, not enemies, and I like it that way. She (my inner editor) gives damn good advice and prevents my story from going off the rails. I appreciate that.

I know, I’ve just confessed to doing the two big no-no’s of NaNo: 1) write slowly, and 2) listen to your inner editor. I bet you’re thinking I will totally fail this challenge!

Not so fast. I have a plan. I said so in the title. Let me tell you what it is and then you can determine if I stand a chance…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


The Inciting Incident: Problem vs Opportunity

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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I confess I’m having trouble with my Act I. This is unusual for me. Typically I find setting up the story the easy part compared to Act II & III. So what’s wrong? After picking my first half dozen scenes apart and rewriting them multiple times, the problem finally became clear:

The Inciting Incident lacks a certain “oomph!”

Right, Heather, because “oomph” is such a clearly defined thing! Touché. But at least I have zeroed in on the issue. Now to examine the parts and what I could be missing…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


Watching For Writers 101: Flash Forwards

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Reading for Writers 101

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I began the “Reading For Writers 101” blog series (for a full summary of posts, click here) because I believe writers can learn so much from reading books. Well, the same goes for watching television shows or films. Hence, this new series: Watching For Writers 101. Welcome! Today we’re going to learn how to effectively use flash forwards.

A flash forward is a scene from later in the story that the writer moves up front, often as the opening scene, to hook the reader/audience. It’s used in movies (Fight Club, Limitless) and TV shows (Alias, Damages, How To Get Away With Murder) where the story opens with the hero in a perilous situation and then rewinds back to the beginning and doesn’t return to that scene until almost the end of the show/episode/film.

Writers use flash forwards because they are exciting and immediately hook the audience with the question: “How did the hero get into this crazy situation?” But flash forwards are often criticized for three reasons…


Audiobook Pitfall: Scene Breaks

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Since I’ve begun listening to audiobooks, I’ve noticed that not all books convert well to the audible format. So I started this little series: Audiobook Pitfalls. The sale of audiobooks is on the rise, and most new releases (not just bestsellers) are now made into audiobooks as well as e-books and print books, so it’s important for authors to be aware of how their writing may or may not work without the visual cues of the page.

Today, we’re going to talk about scene breaks. Most chapters are made up of multiple scenes, and visually these are separated by a space on the page, but in audiobooks it’s simply a slightly longer pause, which, if your scene isn’t well-structured, just doesn’t work. Here’s why…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


5 Reasons to Track Questions & Answers in Your Novel

Category: Writing Craft, Outlining, Revising

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This week while flushing out my novel’s outline, I decided to track where I raised and answered questions in the story. Why? Because questions are crucial to a good story; they ensure it has enough intrigue and suspense to keep readers reading. Have you ever set down a book and not been compelled to pick it back up? That’s probably because you weren’t dying to know the answer to a question! Questions and their elusive answers keep us reading. For the A to Z Challenge, I blogged about big and little story questions and gave tips for how to make these questions engage readers all the way to The End. Check out the full post here. For today’s post, I will illustrate how tracking questions and answers can improve your story…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


Audiobook Pitfall: Lack of Dialogue Tags + 1st Person POV

Category: Writing Craft

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I began listening to audiobooks a few months ago. Though if I’m honest, it all started with the SERIAL podcast. Unable to resist the hype, I jumped on that bandwagon and was not disappointed – great storytelling! After it was over, I was in the habit of listening to something while I did dishes every night, so I tried other podcasts but none grabbed me. What I loved about Serial is that the whole season unfolds like a detective novel. That’s when I realized what I was really looking for were books I could listen to. Luckily, it’s the 21st century and audiobooks are all the rage.

But after a few months I’ve noticed that not all books convert well into audiobook format. So I’m starting this little series: Audiobook Pitfalls

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


How To Write Unpredictable Stories

Category: Writing Craft

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When I read a book or watch a movie, I always try to figure out what is going to happen. For me, the most enjoyable stories keep me guessing right up to the end. The least enjoyable stories are the ones where I can predict the ending long before the finale.

Now, you’re probably expecting me to write a post with half a dozen tips on how to be unpredictable in your writing. However, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and I’ve concluded there’s really just ONE main thing you need to do:

Evenly balance the Hero’s Final Options.

What the heck does that mean? Allow me to elaborate…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


The Key to Writing 3-Dimensional Characters

Category: Characters, Writing Craft

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The most common advice I’ve heard for writing three-dimensional characters is to delve into their backstory, develop their personality profiles, and get to know them as if they are alive and kicking right beside you. Common wisdom seems to support that if the author knows their characters inside and out, then said characters will be three-dimensional on the page.

But it’s not always that easy…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


5 Tests for Writing Multiple POVs

Category: Writing Craft

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Stories with multiple POVs are difficult to write. I’ve read more books that attempted this technique and failed than books where multiple POVs not only worked but improved the story. But recently I began reading Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series and OH MY GOSH GUYS the first two books blew my mind with how well the multiple POVs were handled. Here’s a basic list of what Shusterman did right…

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Screenplays vs Game Scripts: 5 Differences

Category: Writing Craft, Game Writing

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Recently I was hired to write a video game script. I’ve never written for games, but both the producer and I thought my screenwriting skills would translate well since each medium uses dialogue as a key storytelling device. However, except for dialogue skills, I found out that game writing is pretty much the opposite of screenwriting!

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


Test Those Scene Connections – But, Therefore & Then

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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As I build my outline, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good scene, and that led to these posts: Test That Scene – Is It Essential or Filler? and Test That Scene – Cut or Revise? But what about stringing those scenes together? Is there a test for that? Good news: there is!

Click here to read the full post at WriteOnSisters.com


Test That Scene – Cut or Revise?

Category: Writing Craft, Revising

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A month ago I wrote a post called Test That Scene – Is It Essential or Filler? The basics of it are this:

No Filler Test

Question #1 – If deleted, will the reader still be able to follow the story? If yes, you’ve got filler!

Question #2 – What is different by the end of this scene? If nothing, it’s filler!

Question #3 – What/Who does this scene affect? If nothing/nobody, it’s – you guessed it – filler!

If even one of these questions results in “filler”, the scene should be cut or revised. But how do you know which option to choose?

That’s the issue I’ve encountered as I write and revise the outline for my WIP. I never create totally inessential scenes, and if a scene is two-thirds of the way there (i.e. satisfies two of the three test questions), my instinct is to revise not cut. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, but I found my story dragging anyway. If I’d revised them into fully fleshed-out essential scenes, why did they still feel like filler?

To find out, click here and read the full post on Writeonsisters.com.


Reading for Writers 101 Roundup

Category: Writing Craft, Reading for Writers 101

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I created the Reading for Writers 101 series because I believe reading critically is an essential component of learning writing craft. Plus the series gives me an outlet to not only express my frustration when I’m disappointed with books (which I never name because, you know, niceness), but to learn from them. And if I’m impressed with a book, I can shout it from the hilltops and share the brilliance! So, without further ado, here are the lessons so far…

(Click on titles below to read the full posts on Writeonsisters.com)

What Book Jackets Teach About a Story’s “Hook”

  • When book jackets lead me to expect something and then do not deliver, I learn the importance of correctly identifying one’s story hook.

Books I Did Not Finish… 3+ Reasons Why

  • I pinpoint the three main reasons I stop reading and make a checklist to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes in my own novel.

Character Change, part 1

  • I examine why character change makes a story worth reading.

Character Change, part 2

  • I outline the three steps of creating character change so it evolves naturally and doesn’t appear out of nowhere.

Is Your Story Ending ‘Right’?

  • It’s hard to get an ending just right, but I’ve come up with three steps to help.

Unreliable Narrators

  • Can unreliable narrators work when written in 1st person tense? It’s tough but doable, so I study two novels that did it well.

Character Motivation

  • I examine two common situations where heroes lack motivation, then offer solutions.

 


Two Components of a Great Opening Sentence

Category: Writing Craft

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Writers put a lot of pressure on themselves regarding the first line of a story. I don’t know if it was always this way, but in our fast-paced world there is this expectation that writers must hook readers with just one sentence. Otherwise, they will pick up the next book on the shelf!

Whether this is true or not, a great first line certainly doesn’t hurt. I’ve been thinking a lot about first lines and how they set the scene for the whole story. In fact, I wrote two completely separate openings for my novel because I started with different sentences. For me, that’s how influential that first line can be. It has the power to shape everything.

So what makes a great opening sentence? I think it comes down to these two things…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


Test That Scene – Is it Essential or Filler?

Category: Writing Craft, Revising

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When I plot a story, I tend to think in terms of action. This is probably due to my screenwriter training. In a screenplay all you have to work with is action and dialogue. And in an outline, where you don’t write dialogue, all you have is action. So naturally, when I outline, I follow the action – this takes place here, then the character does this, then the antagonist counters with this move, etc. This is a perfectly good way to plot a story, as I explained in this post: Outlining – Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”). However, a proper scene requires more than just action…

Click here to read the full post on WriteOnSisters.com


Is Your Idea a Short Story or Novel?

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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Not counting my childhood Young Authors books (for a hilarious selection of those click here), I have written only one short story: a grim ghost tale featured in Pen & Muse’s Haunted House showcase. However, I’ve written many television episodes, which resemble short stories in length and substance. Writing a novel, by comparison, is like crafting a whole season of a serialized TV show. But besides length, what is the difference between long-format stories and short stories? And how can you tell if your idea works best as a short story or a novel? Or can the same story premise work equally well as both?

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


Prime Inner Conflict (aka Conflicting Wants)

Category: Characters, Writing Craft

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Earlier this year I wrote a post about Internal Conflict based on a character’s flaws, fears and morality. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict can be numerous and varied. The only rule is it all must get in the way of the hero achieving his/her goal. If it doesn’t, you don’t have conflict, just baggage.

Then there is what I call the Prime Inner Conflict. This is a want or desire that doesn’t just conflict with the protagonist’s goal, it competes with it. And last month I found out just how integral this is to a story…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


How To Create An Antagonist

Category: Characters, Writing Craft

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Today on WriteOnSisters we have another edition of “Heather encounters a story problem and finds a way to solve it.” I’ve admitted before that my ideas come from situations not character, hence my posts about How To Choose A Main Character and Creating Character Arc From Plot, so it serves to reason that if I don’t have a protagonist in mind when the idea forms, I don’t have an antagonist either. So how do I create an antagonist? I’ll tell you…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


A-Z Writing Tips: Stakes, Conflict, Comedy, Outlines & more!

Category: Writing Craft

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The April A-Z Writing Challenge is complete! Over at Writeonsisters.com Robin and I made it through the whole month, taking turns with the letters. Our format of 3 Writing Tips + 2 Examples + 1 Link for more help went over great with our readers! I’ve already posted letters C (Character Change) & E (External Conflict), and below you will find the rest of my letters from the challenge…

F is for False Stakes

Before writing this post, I Googled “false stakes” to see what other people had written on the subject and found… nothing! Not a single article or blog post on false stakes of the non-vampire variety. I felt like a student studying dark matter, questioning whether it’s even real since it can neither be seen nor detected using current technologies. However, I believe false stakes exist in many books. I will attempt to explain…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

I is for Internal Conflict

A couple letters ago, I talked about External Conflict – all those forces in the universe that are bumping up against the protagonist. Now we’ll discuss Internal Conflict – the sometimes black hole of doubt within the hero. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict must get in the way of the hero achieving his goal. Most importantly, Internal Conflict forces the hero to make hard choices…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

K is for Kittens!

Know what we need in the middle of this A to Z Challenge? A fun post full of cute kitty pictures! But I also have some bonafide advice for writers with cats. Just this year we adopted a stray kitten from the shelter, and I’ve learned a few things about writing from home with a fuzzy feline…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

L is for Laughs

I’ve spent most of my career writing cartoons and teen sitcoms where getting laughs from the audience is paramount! Not surprisingly, many screenwriters are comedians. I, alas, am not. Luckily, we all have the ability to be funny if we keep in mind the following three tips…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

O is for Outlines

As a screenwriter, outlines are mandatory. Not so for authors. If you’re penning a novel, it seems as if you must choose between two camps – plotter (those who outline) or pantser (those who start writing a manuscript sans outline). But it doesn’t have to be one or the other, and I think the vast space between these polar opposites is where most writers fit. So with that in mind, the following three tips for outlining are more like stages, moving from macro to micro in scope.

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

Q is for Questions

Questions are what keep readers interested in a story. At every moment in your novel, the reader must want to know the answer to a question, otherwise there’s no reason to keep reading. There are three types of questions in every good story, and I’ll endeavour to give you some tips on how to make these questions entice readers all the way to The End. 

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

R is for Reversal

One of the many things I’m learning from writing this blog is that people have different definitions for writing terms. When Robin first wrote a post on reversals, I thought to myself, “Oh, I call those Turning Points!” Perhaps that’s the screenwriting term. But both mean the same thing – a moment where the story takes a sharp turn, or in other words, reverses direction. The major Turning Points or Reversals happen at the end of each act, at the midpoint and in the finale. Minor ones can happen anywhere. 

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

U is for Unreliable Narrators

I love unreliable narrators because they go hand-in-hand with surprise endings. No matter the genre, when a narrator is not telling the truth there is mystery in the story.

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

W is for Writer Wellbeing

Being a writer can take a toll on us, physically, emotionally and mentally. When we get engrossed in writing, it’s easy to forget to look after ourselves. So I’ve come up with three things I am going to try to do every day to take better care of myself…

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com

X is for X-Ray

What does “x-ray” have to do with writing craft? I didn’t choose it just because I needed an “X” word for the #AtoZChallenge, or because I already used “x-rated” for last year’s post (X-Rated: Should YA Books Have a Rating System?), but because all writers need to be able to check the spine of their story. Hence, we need to x-ray our novels to see the bones.

Stories are about transformation, a journey that changes the hero. In screenwriting, checking the spine means making sure every scene in the story informs and affects this change. I do this at the outline stage when I have all my scenes laid out and summarized into paragraphs. If you don’t outline, you can make a scene list based on your draft, writing one line for each scene.

Click here to read the full post on Writeonsisters.com


The A to Z Challenge Details

Category: Writing Craft

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Hello fellow bloggers! I just realized when I comment on all your lovely blogs that my gravatar sends you to my personal website instead of Writeonsisters.com where all of the A-Z blogs are posted. Please visit me and Robin over there! Our theme for this year’s challenge is:

3, 2, 1… BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing!

We have tons of writing tips and a few space jokes to share. Looking forward to seeing you!